Located on the second floor of the Polynesian Resort, just steps from the monorail, Ohana is a large, family-style restaurant serving grilled meats with pan-Asian flavors that borrow from the cuisines of China, Hawaii, and Japan. Think soy sauce-based sauces with hints of sugar, coriander, and garlic. The effect can range from delicious to cloyingly sweet, but there's plenty of it, all in a festive, family-friendly atmosphere.
As soon as you're seated your server will bring you bread and butter. The bread is a sweet, Hawaiian-style bread and that's warm and fresh, but try not to eat too much of it: There's a lot more to come.
A simple tossed salad of romaine, radicchio, and spinach comes drizzled with a light, honey-lime dressing. The crisp, fresh taste of the dressing makes this salad one of my favorite parts of the meal.
After the salad your server will bring you chicken wings with a honey coriander sauce and pork dumplings
The wings are meaty and tender with perfectly crisp skin, however the pork dumplings don't fare quite as well. On every visit, I've found the dumplings to be overcooked to the point where the wonton is hard and crunchy, which is a shame given that the spicy filling has a pleasant, gingery kick. I'd love to see these dumplings gently steamed and then given a quick sear in the pan. Lo mein noodles round out the appetizer portion of your meal. They come with steamed broccoli florets which, if my observations are correct, are largely ignored.
The lo mein noodles are so addictive you might find yourself reaching for multiple portions, although by now you've probably noticed that just about everything on the menu, including the noodles, is sweet. I love sweet and salty foods but if you don't, you might want to pass on this restaurant. Fortunately, you can cut what starts to seem like an unrelenting parade of sugar with the sauces that are brought to your table.
After the appetizers, you're ready for the meat portion of the meal, which your server brings out on a large skewer, using a knife and pushing your serving into a bowl (which serves to anchor the skewer as well as holding your food) at the base of the skewer. There's no order in which meat is brought to you table; it's based on when they come off the grill, although shrimp seems to arrive last. On our last visit we started with the oak grilled chicken. It's not easy to keep chicken breast juicy but they've managed it here with this marinated grilled chicken. It's the least sweet of all the meats, with the deep, nuanced flavor of a soy sauce and sesame oil marinade.
Of all the meat, the pork fares the least well. On each visit it was slightly dry and too sweet. I enjoyed the beef, but the majority of my table mates thought it was too sweet. At this point, I may have stopped noticing since at that point, everything had started to taste the same. The shrimp was a welcome change, as it was still juicy from being cooked with the shell on and was not overly sauced or spiced; you could actually taste the flavor of the shrimp itself. It's wildly popular judging from the piles of shells on some guests' plates, so if you want to indulge, you'll need to ask your server to bring more.
Everyone enjoyed dessert, which was a bread pudding with caramel sauce (most often with sliced bananas) topped with scoops of ice cream. I'm a huge fan of caramel and this sauce, which was a simple brown sugar sauce with cream, butter and vanilla, was delicious. I could eat this every day and not get tired of it. The pudding is very sweet (shocking, I know), so you may want to ask for extra ice cream to cut the sweetness a bit.
Ohana means "family," but my husband and I always joke that it actually means "meat." Obviously, this can be an issue for some guests. Fortunately, the kitchen is very accommodating. Kids who are picky eaters will do fine here as chicken nuggets, fries and macaroni and cheese are also available. They can even get a separate dessert. Vegetarians or those with dietary restrictions should consult with the chef for a separate entree. Regardless of your preferences, you won't leave Ohana hungry.
Service and Atmosphere:
Ohana is loud and fun, making it ideal for an end-of-trip celebration dinner when you're feeling just a bit sad about leaving Disney World. The room is dark, with small, very bright, overhead lights punctuating the darkness and creating an unpleasant spotlight effect on some of the guests. Almost all of the tables have views of the pool and the Magic Kingdom and Cinderella Castle beyond through a large bank of windows. If you're dining later at night, ask for a table near the windows so you can see the fireworks, but even tables in the middle of the room have a great view.
Service is both enthusiastic and haphazard. We recently waited 45-minutes for a glass of wine and drinks were never refilled, but the steady stream of food was unrelenting, at least until we got to the "meat" portion of the meal. Your server will bring out skewers of chicken, beef, pork and shrimp to your table throughout that portion of the meal, but there can be very long waits between servings. This is particularly true if you have a large table. On a recent visit there were eleven of us, all adults. Our server ran out of meat halfway through each visit to our table, so one side of the table was always watching the other eat.
After dinner, consider going down to the beach to watch the Electrical Water Pageant or the fireworks. This resort comes to life at night, with gorgeous lighting illuminating the exotic landscaping. There are plenty of places to sit and have a quiet drink from the bar or for a romantic stroll.
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Getting a Reservation at Ohana:
Guests love a good bargain and at one table-serice credit on the Disney Dining Plan, Ohana is fits the bill. This is part of the problem. When Le Cellier, easily the most popular restuarant on Disney property, went to two table-service credits for dinner, Ohana took its place as the number one table-service dinner location. Make sure you get your reservation as close to the 180-day mark as possible. If you're planning late, don't give up hope. You can still opt for a late seating (say, after 9:30) or keep calling close to travel in the hopes that there will be cancellations. Finally, Ohana requires a credit card guarantee to reserve a spot. Your card won't be charged but there is a $10 per person fee for no-shows so make sure you cancel one-day prior to your reservation.
Ohana is a restaurant with some occasional bumps, but like a lot of guests, the pluses outweigh the minuses for us, making it a must-do every trip. It's the kind of place that feels special enough for date night, but still casual enough that you won't have to worry about rambunctious kids--your own or someone else's. The fun atmosphere could easily easily bring anyone out of the end-of-trip blues, at least temporarily. And while it's true that I would love some savory additions to the menu, I still love the food. In fact, I'm wishing I had some of that bread pudding right now!